Festival demand soars for fake friends
Bian Yong is available for rent this Spring Festival.
Tired of being pestered by relatives for still being single, he has placed an online ad offering to pose as a fake boyfriend for a low fee, mainly out of curiosity and in the hope of helping someone else in the same situation.
“I’m a victim of my parents’ dissatisfaction,” says the 32-year-old, who works in Shanghai and usually returns to his hometown in rural Anhui province for the holiday. “Instead of enduring more nagging, I’d rather pretend to be a woman’s boyfriend to ease the pressure on her.”
Bian uploaded his ad to 20py.com, one of about five websites that have popped up in recent years to cater to the growing trend of people taking fake partners — often total strangers — to family reunions.
Business for such websites has been booming ahead of Spring Festival.
“For the month leading up to Chinese New Year, we’ve handled more than 1,200 connections. Normally, it’s about 100 a month,” says Wang Jianhua, a spokesman for Zunvyou, a website based in Shenzhen, Guangdong province. (The name means “rent a girlfriend”.)
Prices soar at this time, too. “It costs about 1,000 yuan ($145; 135 euros; £116) a day right now, compared with about 600 yuan on average,” Wang says, and that doesn’t include transportation and meals.
Demand is so high that such websites, which first began to emerge in 2014, make as much at Spring Festival as they do during the rest of the year combined.
To post an ad, users must register with their personal information, including age, occupation and height, and upload a headshot.
Clients can list special requirements. They are required to pay a deposit — usually half the rental price — and must submit proof of identity and employment. Platforms charge a service fee of 10 to 20 percent.
Wang says most of Zunvyou’s clients work in large cities but come from smaller cities or rural areas, where people are generally expected to be married by their mid-20s.
20py.com, based in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province, has more than 3 million registered members. The ratio of men to women is 10:1.
Such a gender imbalance is common, which Wang put down to women having more safety concerns. He says Zunvyou and other sites have introduced measures to prevent potential threats to personal safety and property.
“We make clients meet first in a public venue and send their location to our employees when they take a ‘partner’ to their hometown,” he says. “We also encourage them to keep their cellphones switched on at all times in case of emergency.”
While some offer themselves up for rent as a way to make money, Bian says he is charging only 200 yuan a day. Contact the writers through email@example.com.